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It was late fall in Sastia, just after the harvest and Adriana Bex rode across a barren field with the full moon hanging in the sky behind her.
She balanced her bad memories of the jungle she had left behind her with her fond memories of Opria.  The cold land was home to warm people, more than willing to share the warmth of their homes and their abundant seafood harvests.  She studied under one the legendary Blademasters based there for close to two years before her trip south into the Draconian lands.
She would never admit this to anyone but her trek through The Draconian lands had affected her deeply, she would likely never forget the sounds of the jungle and would never forget the smell of decay that followed her everywhere she went.
Her horse died of disease after a couple of days and she abandoned her heavy crate minutes later, trading it in for several large bags and sacks that she slung over her back and shoulders and her load left her struggling with every step.
She could still smell the sickly sweet odor of a plant that coiled around her leg as she walked by it and the revolting noise it had made when she sliced through the vine that had already started to drag her toward its open maw.  She was much more careful after that and tried to find roads and trails.  
She eventually found one that led her to the city after several weeks of a sickness and near starvation.  Her father’s Draconian made sword drew the attention of a patrol who ambushed her, knocked her out and dragged her to their lord. She was grateful for what the Draconian Lord T’kassk’ak’an had done for her, she taught him the Common Tongue once she explained the situation through a translator taught the Common Tongue by a Naga mage. She learned his language in return, though it was not made for human mouths.
She spent a year there and when she felt that she should move on he had given her the Saurian she named Anteros as a gesture of thanks and a belated apology. She had spent her twenty third birthday on the road cutting across the Northern regions of Jerrakon before entering this war torn land.
The locals in the villages she’d passed through told her what had made Sastia the ruined nation it was. It had been nearly thirty years since the King had died with no heir leaving his two generals to fight for control.  Various nobles and officials who supported the two claimants had since died, passing the fight to their sons. As the civil war dragged on, fueled by magical Kinesia Stones both sides sold to pay for mercenary armies the various regional and city officials became more and more independent though still nominally supporting one of the two sides.
She had no idea who owned the land she rode into, obviously someone important judging by the small fortress, the village and mine works at the base of the hill that filled up the horizon.   She ordered Anteros forward with a barked command in Draconian and hoped that the village before her had somewhere she could stay the night.
She was stopped by a pair of guards on horseback and they demanded to know what she was doing there.
“I come in peace. I am merely passing through and wish to stay the night.”
“You travel armed and ride a Dragonstock beast. Sheduer will wish to speak to you personally. Carry on.”
They parted ways and she rode on to the fortress door.  She felt rather foolish but knocked anyway.   They were clearly not used to visitors as it took a few moments for someone to answer.
“Lord Sheduer… We have a guest. You should speak to her.”  The door guard left and the man he was calling for replaced him.
The man was not dressed like the guards who had stopped her, he was shirtless but wore a plain brown sash across his chest and a sword at his hip.  Sheduer was bald with a vertical scar under one eye but wore a chest length beard pulled into a braid.
She guessed he was a mercenary hired by a local lord to garrison this fortress and protect the mine.
“What is your name traveler and what brings you to these lands?”
“Adriana Bex. I am traveling and I simply wish to stay the night.”
“You are welcome in my hall.  You arrived at just the right time. Tonight we feast to celebrate the harvest. I will have someone care for your beast.”
“The soldiers I encountered said you would want to speak to me personally. Why is that?”
“Adriana… if I may call you that… You travel armed and ride a Dragonstock beast. You are the most interesting person I have met in months.”
She already had more than she asked for and she decided to trust this man’s hospitality. She followed closely behind him and at as she was directed to a long table in the fortress hall.
Bex suddenly felt uncomfortable as she entered the rundown building and sat down.
“We have a guest for the night, treat her with all possible respect.”  Sheduer ordered and then asked her to tell them her story. “It is a tradition in this part of the world that guests entertain their hosts, tell us your story. What brings you here? Where did you come from?”
She debated what to tell him for a moment and decided to start from the beginning. “I am Adriana Bex and the story of my life begins with a priestess and a King…”  
There must be a way to condense that she thought as she drew near the end of her tale.
“What is your story Sheduer? Where do you come from?”
“I am Steyla, from the lands far to the south. I was not content to serve the Ghitsai who rule over my people. I assembled an army from among my own, from the poor and desperate of the Southern Kingdoms and came North. I found this land and fought for no one but myself and the men I call my family. I am Sheduer, final son of Tizrah! I came from nothing and now I dress my woman in purple!”
He stood, threw both fists into the air holding his sword in his right hand.  
“I was nothing, we were nothing but now I am a Lord by right of conquest I squeezed the life from Izhar and his sons with my own hands, took his daughter to my bed and best of all, the so called King we once served is such a fool for he has not yet learned of it! Zophim and Zuar-”
He pointed them out with the tip of his blade, “The sons of Jair, are my brothers!
The woman in question was in fact wearing purple, some scrap of a dress that preserved her modesty but only barely.  Her heaving chest and legs poked out from the thin fabric, her dark hair was tangled into knots and her neck was wrapped in necklaces and jewelry, including several low grade Kinesia stones.   She clambered onto his lap when he took his seat again, wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered something in his ear.
“Excuse me, my lady Tola needs me.”  Sheduer stood and carried the now giggling woman from the room.   It took Adriana a moment to realize just what Sheduer had said and when it dawned on her she suddenly felt sick.
“Who is she?” She asked one of the servants as he poured her another glass of wine.
“Tola is the daughter of the local lord, the one Sheduer killed to conquer this land. She is the sole survivor of his family, her mother and father, her brothers are all dead. She loves and hates him equally, as much as she loves and hates herself.”
“Was he an evil man?” She kept her voice low.
“No. He was a fool but not an evil one. He treated us well, Sheduer does not.”  He replied with resignation in his voice. “But there is little we can do.”
She began to wonder if there was anything she could do.  She’d fought battles that weren’t hers before and wondered if this was the same situation, should she fight? Or should she simply deliver a message to the king he had once served? She had no idea which one and so she slowly drank her wine, wondering how long she’d be safe here.
The night descended further into debauchery and she wanted no part of it. “Can someone please show me to my room?”
She slept despite her dread and a dream of a childhood memory came to her.
She couldn’t have been more than five years old when a visitor arrived at their home, traveling with a retinue of armed men and armed himself.   She couldn’t really remember his face, but remembered the sound of his voice very well.
“Your name has reached as far as Qi’ba. It is a tradition of my people to give a friend a gift upon the birth of their firstborn.  I hope we can be friends King of Shadows.”
Her father took the bundle he was offered, unwrapped the rough spun cloth and his jaw fell with shock and amazement. “Is this a Draconian blade?”
“It is. I also brought your daughter a gift.”  He made a gesture and one of his aides brought forth a large wooden box almost as tall as she was.  
“Open it if you please Princess.”   She pried her small fingers into a gap between two boards and was greeted by sound of a songbird.
She stumbled backward as the metal bird hopped forward singing and flapping its wings, bringing a smile of wonder and tears of joy to her young face.
“Made by Goblin smiths in the Threefold Kingdom. All it requires is water twice a day and an ember every two days.”
She gave the bird a hug, made a leash of the cord around her dress and went off to play with her new mechanical friend.
“We can be good friends indeed.” Her father’s voice faded away “Tell me. What is your name?”
“Dolas Badzhir.”
She woke for just a moment and knew she needed to seek him out.  He might still live and might be able to help her.  She made a mental note to remember the name and returned to sleep. She woke with the dawn and the sound of the mine.
She slowly walked to the stable attached to the fortress, concerned for her Saurian friend.  She found him eating fresh hay and rumbling contentedly, blissfully unaware of his mistress’s concerns.
The self-proclaimed Lord entered behind her. He was wearing a plan white shirt to ward off the slight chill in the air but still wore his sash and weapons.
“Are you leaving us Adriana?” Sheduer asked as he saddled the white stallion.
“Not just yet.” She replied, saddling Anteros.
“Ride with me then.”  
She couldn’t see any harm in it, if she was going to fight it helped to know the ground she was to fight on.  The horse was noticeably jittery around The Saurian but Sheduer was easily able to keep him under control as they rode around the village.
“Did you sleep well Adriana? I know my home has drafts in unfortunate places.”
“Well enough.  I have not led an easy life and my mind never truly rests.”
Zophim walked up carrying a canvas bag full of stones.  He took it in both hands and looked inside.
“Useless, lazy peasants… This is all they can do? Do you think we need to make an example?”
“That shaft has been running dry of late and we may need to close it down. I think they deserve another chance.”
“All right. Another mistake and then they have to pay for it.”  He rode on and Adriana was close behind, disgusted and half tempted to kill him right then and there.   Her hand drifted to the sword at her side but better judgement held her back.
“I am sorry you had to see that Adriana. Not an easy thing to be a Lord.”
She had the feeling she’d see much worse before this was over and was proven correct when she saw the scalps tied to his saddle, but the time wasn’t right just yet. She spent the day touring the village, feigning interest in all the details. She found herself checking her money bags every so often as she didn’t trust anyone, Sheduer and his lackeys least of all but also not the poor and desperate villagers.
They briefly parted ways and she stopped at the crest of a hill to look at the mountains beyond. She had a moment of reflection, noting that as bad as this land was what lay beyond was worse, The Dethlins, once the domain of the long departed Titan Lords.  She thought on those old stories for just a moment and then her mind returned to the present thinking on a mercenary whose ambitions had led him to great evil.
She had an idea of the man she needed to kill but not those he was oppressing so she rode Anteros back into town and left him outside the mine.  She entered with a rag around her face to avoid breathing the dust.  She was greeted by the sound of hammers and picks but also a whip crack and a powerful curse.
“Bex- what are you doing here?”  The mercenary asked with an edge of anger and fear in his voice.
“I wanted to see the village and the mine.”  She answered honestly. “Just go I will keep an eye on them for you.”
The mercenary just shrugged and wandered off toward some other business.
“Tell me about Kinesia Stones, tell me about the mine.”
“We call them “tears of stone” for they have brought us only suffering, first Izhar and now Sheduer.  We toil every day, knowing our work brings only suffering to others.”
She pulled a small stone from a nearby bucket and noted its milky blue- white color, another reason to call them tears
“I also want Sheduer dead and I need you and yours to help me.” She murmured and hoped he heard, while hoping none of Sheduer’s did.  
“We can talk later but we cannot be seen speaking to you now. I will meet you at the tavern just after sunset.”
She nodded, left and wandered around the surrounding countryside until sunset and headed to the tavern to plan a revolution.
The miners finished their work for the day and joined her at a table in a shadowy corner.
“What did you have in mind Adriana? We are not fighters.”
“No, But you are strong from working the mines every day and angry at what Sheduer did you and Izhar...”
Her voice trailed off when she saw Zuar enter the room.
Zuar walked up behind the barmaid “You belong to me now beautiful…”  He shoved her toward the backroom and she could do nothing, even as screams echoed through the awkward silence.
“gods…”  the tavernkeeper grumbled as she slowly walked back out, weeping and bloody with shredded clothes.  “Everyone finish your drinks and go.” He ordered and everyone obeyed.  
She slowly shuffled out, unsure of what to do.
“This has gone too far.” One of the villagers grumbled. “What he did… a woman’s body is sacred. The goddess of love taught us that.”
“But what can we do?”  They all kept their voices low to make sure they weren’t heard.
“We can fight.” Adriana Bex told them.  “I can help you. You have every advantage here.  You know the land far better than they do. You have tools that can easily become weapons. You have your anger and the favor of Balak since you fight for a worthy cause.”
“We will spread the word. We cannot act tonight but this cannot wait for long. we will fight, win or die trying.”
A storm came off the mountains that night and the thunder echoed her growing anger.  She would face them alone if she had to but she knew that she would not stand alone anymore. They had gone too far and they would pay for it.  She spent her night with a whetstone, obsessively sharpening the already sharp edge.  She stopped only when she caught her hand on the blade, sliced into her own flesh and blood came streaming down the edge.
She just let it bleed, letting the pain give her focus. She replaced the sword in its sheath and tried to sleep. After all it wasn’t every day that she led a revolution and she needed her rest.
“Will you allow me another day?” She asked Sheduer over breakfast.
“Stay as long as long as you want Adriana. I apologize for the rough condition of the village and wish there was more hear to keep you occupied.”
“I think I can find something to keep myself busy.” She replied with just enough truth to be believed.
She checked on Anteros and found him with a mouthful of something she couldn’t identify, likely a rat and just walked.  She sought out the graveyard to find Tola’s family and think about her own. It had been almost a decade since their deaths and to this day had no idea who was responsible.   Nine years of pain and sorrow but at least they’d been productive. They’d taught her how to fight, had led her across the world but they had not answered all of her questions.
“Dolas Badzhir.” She repeated the name she remembered from her dream and struggled to remember more.
Nothing more came to her and her thoughts turned to revolution. How would she take a group of poorly armed but angry miners and turn them into an army?  How would she do it without their oppressors knowing?
She entered the village again and just waited for her would be army with a tankard of local ale.
“We cannot wait Adriana… we move tomorrow or not at all.  No action at all is unacceptable.”
“Then we rise up tomorrow. The fortress is their only advantage but we can easily counter it.” She pointed out, letting them draw their own conclusion.
“The household staff… yes I understand- we force them to withdraw and then they rise up too.” A grin crossed the man’s face but he tried to keep his voice low despite his growing excitement.
It was soon tempered by sadness and a heavy dose of reality. “What of Lady Tola?  She is just as much a victim.”
Bex had to admit the troubled young woman hadn’t factored into her planning.  
“We solve that problem when we come to it- if she raises a hand to us then we have no choice. Otherwise we save her if we can. Spread the word tonight and rest well. We are out of time.”
They all drained their drinks in a silent pact to be free or die fighting.
She regretted the fact they had no time to train, she regretted that the miners and villagers were all untested, she regretted that there were no other options. She returned to her room that night but before she did she took one of the servants aside
“Tommorow, when the moment is right- you will know when, let us in.”  
The servant stifled her smile and just nodded gravely.  
It rained again that night, and the sound of the falling water off the roof brought her some comfort.  She felt it right to pray to Balak but also whatever god of war the citizens of Opria called on but the words wouldn’t come.   She just slept instead, keeping her sword in easy reach
She woke with the sun, strangely at peace about what was to happen.  She put on her armor, left her room without saying anything to anyone and waited for her moment to act.
There was already a crowd gathering, they carried mining tools but refused to enter the mine.
“We will not work today.”  They told the mercenary charged with enforcing order.
“You work or you die.”  He drew his weapon.
The miner buried a pickaxe in the mercenary’s stomach and then ripped it free. He crumpled, choking out his last breath.   The other mercenaries almost panicked, scattering to warn their comrades.   The enraged villagers surged forward with improvised weapons and Bex ran to the stables to drive the horses away and rob them of their biggest advantage in this early stage of the battle.  She hacked the locks on the stalls open in showers of sparks as the first sounds of fighting drifted inside.
“You! This is your doing!” Zuar drew his sword and charged her, blinded by rage.   She easily sidestepped the man’s first clumsy swing.  He stepped on a patch of hay, still wet from the night before and slipped, landing on his back.
She decided this animal didn’t deserve quick and easy. She barked an order and Anteros stepped down, slowly crushing the man’s ribcage.  She didn’t let it bother her, she picked up his blade as proof of his death and ran into battle, cutting through the open ground and narrow streets to rejoin the rebels
The first faced her with spears and shields. She charged, easily getting inside their guard.  She slammed an open hand into an ear, an old street fighting trick and turned the other’s left knee inside out with a sharp sideways kick.  They both collapsed in agony and she moved on. An arrow landed just in front of her, squelching into the wet ground.   She quickly scanned the open ground before her and found the archer, panicking and trying to nock another. She charged but before she could reach him saw the barmaid lay him out with a chair leg.
Bex quickly caught up to her and handed her the other sword.
“Zuar just paid for what he did to you.”
She accepted the weapon she was offered and took off running to join her people.
She saw Zophim trying to organize a defense, pulling everyone back to the open ground in front of the fortress.  He called for his brother and when there was no response a storm of conflicting emotions crossed his face.
“Murder… They murdered my brother… Sheduer! The peasants are rising up! They murdered my brother! EVERYONE RALLY TO ME!”
They came running, they took up formation and the rebels lost momentum, for all of their fury and anger they were still a mob, fighting professional soldiers.
Adriana pulled them back to regroup, leaving the dead and wounded behind for the moment.  Zophim quickly grew overconfident and ordered his men forward.
Someone had started the warehouse on fire and as it burned it exploded into a blue-white fireball that set most of the village on fire.
Zophim almost panicked and the rebels regained their momentum, slamming into the disoriented mercenaries despite their own confusion.  No one was sure who killed Zophim but when he fell his army scattered and ran back to the fortress as quickly as their legs could carry them.
Sheduer was out for his morning ride, taking Tola with him today and had just returned when he saw all of this.  
He had no time to react, Bex visibly flinched at the sound of a wounded horse screaming in pain as it collapsed.
The crowd yanked them both from the saddle and dragged Sheduer into the mine. They ripped the scaffolding apart, piling it at the entrance to slow his escape before a few well-placed shovels and picks brought down the hillside down around it.  
“He said I have eyes like moonlight…”  Tola held Sheduer’s dagger to her own wrist and they could see the conflict on her face.
“He killed your family Tola… abused the people… made you a slave.  If you do this all we fought for is worthless.”  
Adriana took her turn, trying to talk the desperate woman out of doing anything foolish.
“Think for a moment- would you rather spend forever with a man you hate as much as you love or a family that truly loves you, even in death? Give me the knife.”
She held out her hand “Please?”
Tola didn’t give her the knife but grabbed a braid and sliced off a ragged clump of matted hair. She screamed in rage and grief and cut the rest of the tangles free.  She ripped the stones from her neck and threw them to the ground.
“Someone stay with her. We still have to take the fortress.”
The household servants let them in and they found the fighting was already over.  Those eating breakfast were slumped over the table with carving knives hilt deep in their backs and the rest lay dead or wounded around the fortress grounds.
They collected their wounded and then just watched the village burn.
“I wanted to leave this terrible place anyway.” The barmaid told her with tears in her eyes.
“We still have work to do.”  
They forced the wounded to bury the dead and then drove the wounded away without their horses.
They cleaned the blood from the table and everyone ate.  They packed up the meager possessions they had been able to save and planned for their next move.
They were on the road and moving before sunset, still not entirely sure of their destination.
Tola returned to them with freshly shorn hair and clean clothes, there was still pain on her face and everyone could tell she’d been weeping. She was silent for a few moments but eventually choked out a question “Where will we go?”
“You are not far from Jerrakon and from there not far from Nusia. When you reach my homeland, ask someone to show you to Sycados Island, in the center of Lake Irascos. I will meet you when I can but I have other business to attend to.  Please take care of Anteros, I dare not take him aboard a ship.”
“Of course Adriana. You saved me, you saved us all.” Tola answered.
She took Anteros’ muzzle in her hands, looking directly in his eyes. “Goodbye for now my friend.”  She climbed onto one of the captured horses and rode away, taking to the road as she had so many times before.
Where there is ambition there is evil- exemplified in the mercenary turned lord Sheduer

I'll admit- the title is pulled from a Chieftains album- occurred to me that it's a nice poetic description of gemstones. 
In this case said Gemstones are Kinesia Stones, used to amplify magic and in the wartorn land of Sastia they've taken the same role as Conflict Diamonds in the real world. 
SamwiseTheAwesome Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Love it!
BrowncoatMando Featured By Owner Edited Mar 16, 2017  Hobbyist
I almost feel bad about what I did to Tola and that poor barmaid. 
The guy got what was coming to him...  I wrote him as a sociopath, calm and polite but CRAZY.  Sheduer is one of the worst she's fought.
SamwiseTheAwesome Featured By Owner Mar 21, 2017  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Well, they couldn't well be bad guys if they had just offered everyone tea and crumpets, could they?
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